BOE candidates discuss issues

Published 1:19 am Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Two places are up for election on the Covington County Board of Education.

The election will be held Tues., March 1.

For Place 3, incumbent Lynda Powell is facing Dr. James Barton, while in Place 4, incumbent Jeff Bailey is running against Mark Glisson.

The Star-News asked the candidates a series of questions on issues of importance to the county schools.


• What experience do you have with budgets? How would you determine a budget presented to you is a good budget for this system?

Powell: At each board meeting, we have our CFO that comes in and presents the monthly budget to us. If that budget meets all the needs whether it’s a yearly or monthly budget, it’s good.

Barton: I own my own business. I manage a budget day-in and day out. You have the money you are going to get and you spend it in the places with the greatest need.

Bailey: My experience with budgets as far as school budgets have come in the last three terms I have served on the school board. The biggest thing is putting money where needs are and where students need it.

Glisson: My experience working in the manufacturing industry I’ve had increasing levels of responsibility in managing budgets in the last 10 years. You can’t spend more money than you have. The major issues need to be taken care of whether it is infrastructure, transportation and technology those things need to have clearly identified needs stated. Budgets with major changes over the last year need to be clearly explained.


• What are the district’s greatest capital needs right now?

Powell: Technology is our biggest need. And we are addressing those needs now. We have just spent $250,000 on our infrastructure to get it to the point where it can handle the new computers we are purchasing for grades five through 10.

Barton: Straughn is already busting at the seams. I don’t have a great answer as to solve capital funding issues. There should be a way the county should be able to put some in a reserve fund for these projects. Maybe we can work with the legislature as well. Our other schools are getting old and need some work. We’ve also had a lot of severe weather. I think we should take a page out of Andalusia’s book and figure out how to do a FEMA safe room.

Bailey: We are in very good shape financially. We need to improve our buildings, but that’s something we have been constantly working on. Over the last six years, we have replaced our roofs and we will continue to put more money into Internet upgrades. We recently put $250,000 in a technology infrastructure. We will continue to purchase computers for third grade through 12 graders.

Glisson: My perspective as a parent is that the greatest need is in the area of technology. I also see needs in the area of vocational readiness and Advanced Placement courses as well as ACT test preparation. We also have some needs from a transportation standpoint.

• What do you see as opportunities and challenges in this district?

Powell: Again, our challenges have to do with keeping up with technology. We are also challenged because we are not getting money from the state right now for a lot of our programs, and it has to come from our general funds. That’s certainly challenging. I would like to see Pre-K programs in all of our schools. Right now, WS Harlan and Fleeta do not have these programs. And at our other schools we draw 16 names. I don’t think that’s fair to our other students.

Certainly we have opportunities. We need new programs that are available to increase our students’ knowledge. We have our JAG program and our music program is expanding. We need to get more programs that help with career readiness.

Barton: Our opportunities are wide open. There are a lot of low hanging fruit. We need better vocational programs. Because some kids aren’t going to go to college. We don’t need to force them. We need to take advantage of the dual enrollment programs. Andalusia and Opp are doing this. Something the county can do very easily. We also need more advanced classes. Our students shouldn’t’ have to take remedial classes when they get go college. Our biggest challenge is going to be funding. How do you have enough money? How do you balance the budget. How do you get a good budget and satisfy the needs?

Bailey: One thing we are doing, but can be expanded is the opportunity to participate in dual enrollment with MacArthur, especially to help students earn tech jobs after high school. They have the opportunity to basically be half finished when they graduation. Our challenge would be to increase participation. Some have taken advantage, but there is certainly room for more to do so.

On the academic side, we need to continue the classes we are able to offer in conjunction with LBWCC.

Glisson: We have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to better prepare our students who are graduating from high school and going into the workforce to be prepared from a vocational standpoint. Those going to college need more academic rigor. We need to offer help in taking college entrance exams so that they can improve their test scores. We should also invest in AP courses. I would also like to see us invest in creative arts programs that lead to more well rounded students, with better self esteem.


• What are your views on open data and transparency of information? What kinds of school district information should be made public?

Powell: I think we are fairly transparent now. There are things we have to be careful such as privacy issues and personnel. From, what I can tell we are transparent.

Barton: We have zero transparency right now. First of all, school board members should be accessible. We can’t tell you personnel issues. We need to be able to tell you a long-term plan – five, 10, 15 years down the road. Everything should be open. The budget should be online.

Bailey: When we are talking general information, I think we are open with all media. I think we should be open as long as it’s not anything specifically related to a student or personnel matters.

Glisson: My view is that the public school system is just that. It’s public. While I certainly have a great deal of understanding and respect for confidentiality, when it benefits out society, it needs to be made public. That’s a difficult one to answer briefly. I think that we have the opportunity and responsibility to have more transparency within the school system. Things that are certainly of financial nature should be readily available to the public. Information relative to safety, security and infrastructure need to be communicated in a more structured way.


• As a school board member, from whom will you seek advice or input in weighing key decisions?

Powell: As a school board member, I certainly listen to our teachers. They are at the front of the line. I always seek advice from parents and key people that you know. Our retired teachers are a good resource. We have several retired teachers and superintendents in this community. A lot of times, I will call those retired superintendents. They have perspective that maybe a parent or a teacher won’t have.

Barton: I will seek advice from the parents, teachers, principals and all personnel of the school. I certainly want to hear it. Other school board members from other systems can offer good insight. I want to talk to them and see what they think. Of course, the board should reach a consensus, if they can.

Bailey: A lot of what we do is private until we have a meeting to find out what’s being recommended to us. I pray about every situation and hope the Lord will give me an answer. If I have a question, I will speak to the superintendent about it.

Glisson: I have a group of people I would look to – people I respect and trust. There are some former educators who I am close with. I would also seek the counsel of my pastor and I would seek from time-to-time, as appropriate, advice from legal counsel.


• How will you communicate your work to your constituents?

Powell: Most of the time, it’s through the newspaper. You’re there and you tell what the school board has done. We always send press releases to the papers. All of our schools have Facebook pages.

Barton: The press is a great way. Facebook is a great communication tool. I’ll be willing to communicate. I want to be as open as transparent as possible.

Bailey: It’s difficult to communicate. None of us have any authority outside of a board meeting. Meetings are covered by the Star-News and sometimes other media. I wish that we recorded and broadcast it. That might be something we can pursue later.

Glisson: I think this is a big opportunity. Our constituency feels a big detachment. My approach will be to have town hall meetings throughout the county and be able to sit down and hear people’s comments and concerns. We need to have open door policies. People don’t often have the extra time to go to meeting, but we must be proactive. Maybe a newsletter and we need to keep the system’s web page up-to-date and each of our schools’.